"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Post-script to Wednesday, to see you thru Sunday

I'd like to write an enormous post right now, about the fun I had at the La Habra Public Library. It was a rotten day, weather-wise; cold drizzle wept from the grey sky all day long. (Side note: amazingly, my beginning riding student showed up for his lesson - by the end, not only was he cold and wet, he discovered he was allergic to horses!) Still seventeen brave souls got in their cars and schussed over to the library to hear me blather on about stuff.

The meeting was supplied with hot apple cider and homemade cookies, still warm when they arrived. The people who stayed away don't know what they missed.

As you can tell, it was an event filled with smiling faces, eager minds, and warm feelings. I'll talk about it all later, but I have to make this evening a short one.

Tomorrow my family heads to the mountains for three days. Please don't tell any crooks who might want to rob us when we're gone, although we'll have a friend hanging out at our place, so I guess it won't do them any good anyway. We'll spend New Year's in Idyllwild with friends, relaxing, playing games, doing whatever we want to do, instead of what we have to do.

I'll be working on a New Year's Resolution list. I don't usually make them. They fall apart after the first day or so, and the only resolution I've ever been able to keep is the year I vowed never to watch Robocop again. So far, that one's holding. But I'm feeling a bit, hmm, thoughtful this year, guilty that I've wasted time and energy doing nothing, when I could have been writing and riding. I'm not certain how that thoughtfulness will end up in the resolution list, but it will shape it.

In the meantime, Happy New Year, everyone - see you in 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wednesday is Library Day!

Don't forget, if you live in the Orange County area, to come by the La Habra Public Library at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, December 30th. I will be there, talking about, "Write What You Know - Then Change It." It's a fun little exercise, where you'll learn many interesting things, like:

1. Why did I use Placentia as the setting of my novel?
2. What other setting did I use for another book I wrote?
3. What other authors have used "write what you know" to their benefit?
4. Can I stay on-topic in a room full of people?

Remember - tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. I'll also have copies of Freezer Burn on hand to autograph and sell.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas faq: Whadja get?

How was everyone's Christmas? That is, everyone who celebrates Christmas. Not to offend, you know.

Mine was pretty good, except that I had the Cold of a Thousand Faces. For three days, it was a Sore Throat, one that hurt so badly I barely got any sleep. On Christmas Eve, it became a Stuffy Head, which meant I didn't feel like having my traditional glass of wine for dinner or glass of sherry while I stuffed stockings. On Christmas Day, I was treated to Runny Nose, inconvenient as hell when you're wandering around to different houses to exchange gifts. Boxing Day was for Sinus Headache - I felt like someone was boxing my brains out.

And now, I'm sniffly but better, all thanks to the good Drs. Motrin, Sudafed, Halls, Afrin, and Excedrin. Better living through chemistry, I always say.

As for gifts, I was apparently good this year. No gold stars, but there was no coal in my stocking - oh, wait, I stuffed that. I got a nice gift card to a day spa, some iTunes cards, a few t-shirts and scarves. It was all pleasant. But I received one present that made me laugh, cry, and count my blessings.

Let me explain.

A few years ago, Dale got me horseback riding lessons for my birthday. One set of four lessons. I took them, but wanted more, so I took more. I took more, but I wanted to ride more, so I leased my trainer's champion trail horse. That led to going to horse shows, which ultimately led to my buying Frostie, breeding her, raising Snoopy, etc. As you can tell, the whole thing went from a little costly to a lotta costly pretty quick. Dale didn't say Stop, but he is the most laconic man in the universe, given to waiting until the last minute before he says, "So, did you think that was a good idea?" or something like that.

So I didn't really know what he thought about it all. He rarely accompanied me to the horse shows, or went to the ranch.

And then, for Christmas, I got this:

It's my trainer's horse, Copper Kist, the belt buckle I won, and all my ribbons. He went to the ranch, got them all to help him take the photos, put it all together, and had it framed. In other words, he spent a lot of time and effort, recording a memory for me. He may not have said it, but he was proud of what I had done.

THIS Christmas, I got a large, flat package from Dale and Marcus. I opened it and found:

Dale acted fairly nonchalant, but Marcus was beaming. Father and son had collaborated on a collage of my debut novel, complete with reviews from Amazon (five stars!) and the front and back cover of my book.

Wait... the front and back cover?

I tried to be tactful. I told them how wonderful it was, how much I loved it. But sooner or later I had to ask, "Did you cut up one of my books?"

"We bought it first," Dale replied, as if that made it perfectly reasonable.

I really adore these guys, and I love what they've done, and I love that they're so proud of me, even if a small portion of my brain wants to scream, "You tore up a perfectly good book! You could have scanned the covers! Agh!"

Luckily, it's Christmas and I can just feed that portion of my brain some more fudge to placate it.

How about you? Whadja get?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The abc's of Christmas

Before I start in on this Very Special Episode, can I tell you a secret? I was running Yet Another Holiday Errand yesterday, when I heard Dean Martin and Martina McBride singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" on my minivan's radio. Honest to God, I sighed. One of those girlie, isn't he dreamy, sighs. Good thing no one else was in the car.

On to today's topic: Christmas letters.

It seems like Christmas letters polarize people. Either you love 'em or you use them in your fireplace, or you want to hunt the senders down and drown them in egg nog.

I like the ones that are well written. The ones that aren't - well, I don't begrudge them. They're giving me some news. Too much news? Maybe I can use Auntie's recent goiter surgery in my next novel. Braggarts? Ha, ha, I don't have to live with them. If they're just so painful and misspelled, my eyes reject the letters on the page, I give them a proper sendoff in the recycle bin.

My friends, Doug and Patty, used to send letters about all the exotic places they'd visit every year. It didn't make me feel envious - I felt like I was receiving a travelogue about a new country. Now they have a little girl, their first, and their letter bemoaned the fact that, now she's in school, there's a lot less African safaris on the agenda. Now I get to think, so now you know what our lives are like.

Then there's my friends, Paul and Suzanne. Suzanne writes the funniest letters. I mean, I'm humorous, but she's funny. Here's an excerpt from this year:

Paul is trying to teach his boxer, Buster, to say "mama." Sometimes I think he has snapped his carrot. Buster is patient with him and makes a lot of sounds that remind me of a dog being hit by a car.

She then describes buying a WiiFit and having it trash talk her, to the point she re-gifted it to a friend. Which, as she points out, doesn't make her a very good friend.

Note: I'm noticing that all of my Christmas letters are from couples, and the women write them. Is this a physical law, or something?

In 1995, I tried writing my first Christmas letter. It was a big hit with family and friends, so I kept writing them. They're now legendary, and have started fights in households ("Why can't you write a letter like the Carlines?"), something I have no control over, but feel badly about just the same. Truly, my letters are formulaic. Anyone can do them. Here's the process:

1. Pick a Christmas song or phrase that you can either build on, or make fun of.
2. Start with an intro paragraph, followed by one paragraph each for kids, husband, wife. Save one paragraph for things you did together as a family. End with a wrap-up paragraph.
3. Keep this to one page - This Is Important!
4. Sign each letter individually. Don't sign one and copy it.

Easy, yes?

Here's this year's letter, as an example.

Please Christmas, Don't Be Late

No, wait, don't listen to those chipmunks. Take your time, Christmas. If I could find a way to stall this holiday one more week, I would. By the time I get these cards in the mail, I'll have been to six concerts, a potluck and a couple of parties, all crowded into three weeks. Good thing I've scheduled a nap for December 26. In the meantime, what have the Carlines been up to?

Marcus is a senior this year, a fact that boggles my mind. He entered Valencia as a future engineer, and he's leaving as a musician. Most of his free time is spent writing music, and this summer he got to intern at a recording studio. He'd like to go to Cal State Long Beach's Conservatory of Music, to major in music composition, and perhaps get a teaching credential, just in case he needs a day job to support his dream of being a composer/arranger. My dream is that he gets his driver's license so I can stop schlepping him around.

Dale’s now on his 150th year at Raytheon. Okay, maybe only 30th, but it's a whole lotta years. He works late and comes home grumbling, which proves how much fun he's having. Even though Marcus has left sports to focus on music, Dale is still coaching - basketball. This year, he coached a team of 2nd and 3rd graders, many of whom had never played the game before. He also helped Art Sauceda with a team of 7th grade kids and won his first championship in hoops. As usual, Dale stays in the game himself, playing both basketball and softball this year, which gives him twice the opportunity for injuries.

As I reported last year, my book was published in August, and I feel like I haven't stopped running since. There are book signings to attend, author festivals to participate in, and Amazon rankings to check constantly. But I'm not just an author, I'm a juggler. I've still got my weekly column to write for the Placentia paper, and I'm the president of the VHS choir booster club this year. Between all of the balls I'm trying to keep in the air, it's a wonder I have time for the horses, but I do.

Speaking of horses, Frostie and Snoopy are both healthy as, well, you know. I usually ride Frostie at least once a week to keep her in shape, and I use her for the occasional lesson. Snoopy is rehabilitating so well that we may start showing him next spring, although I confess, the first time we let him run after breaking his leg, my heart stood still for several beats.

Carline vacations were pretty normal this year; we spent a week at Gold Lake and a week in Decatur, visiting with friends and family, respectively. They were both good trips and we had a lot of fun. On our way home from Gold Lake, the guys took the kids white-water rafting, leaving the ladies with no other option than to go wine tasting. It was a tough job, but we rallied.

By this time next year, I may be describing life in an empty nest. I'm not a weepy gal by nature, but I confess, lately I find myself thinking, "This is the last time Marcus does (fill in the blank)." As I spend time with his choir classmates, I see such bright stars headed out toward the future, and I want to watch their success.

When it comes to that, I agree with the Chipmunks - I can hardly stand the wait.

* * * * *
Add the Christmas picture to that and you've got yourself a holiday greeting. Okay, you've got two days and the blueprint - what do you want your letter to say?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A brief departure from Holiday Cheer

I apologize for today's post. It's completely beneath my normal standards for holiday warmth. Let's just say I needed the distraction.

As part of my daily blog-lurking (blurking?), I usually check out The Rejectionist. Today they posted "Today's Self-Publishing Analogy," with an old magazine advertisement as follows:

I think the point of the post was to show the amount of work a self-published writer has to do to "pump themselves up" in the public eye.

Or maybe it's a warning against blowing up, as it says on the page.

My first thought was, were torpedo breasts really ever in style? Cuz, if they were, every woman in America must have looked armed and dangerous.

My second thought was, I got a better idea. What if that tube was a straw... and you filled the cups with a beverage, like, wine? Wouldn't that be the perfect bra for us ladies of a certain age? Not only would the cooling liquid keep our hot flashes under control, but a little sip, here and there, could do wonders for our dispositions.

We'd just have to sip from each cup evenly, but I think we could remember that, at least until we drink to the point of not caring whether we were lopsided or not.

I can see the advertising campaign: "Forget HRT - Give Me My WineBra!"

Tomorrow, I promise, I'll post another warm, fuzzy note.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Post Script to Sunday's Entry

I ran across this photo of Simba, and Marcus, in their younger days. It was the year in which Marcus refused to sit for any picture without his constant, stuffed companion. The expression on his face reflects the pure joy of a 3-year old.

Yeah. We renewed his contract.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tradition... Tradition!

Remember the last post, where I said that getting our Christmas tree was pretty inconsequential? Yeah, about that...

I suppose, picking out the tree, strapping it to the roof of the minivan and getting it home were ho-hum stuff. Once home, I spent a day trying to decorate it, while fielding phone calls and emails about my son's choir activities that I, as choir booster club president, am somehow in charge of handling. Mix these distractions with the fact that I am allergic to live Christmas trees, and it's no wonder it took me all day to hang ornaments.

The allergy is a new one - it began two years ago and is now to the point where I break out, itch, and my eyes water. I need to break down and get an artificial tree. I know this. A beautiful, fake green tree, a pre-lit one. It would save me, both in decorating time and the cost of Benedryl.

Like this:

(BTW, this one is On Sale for $749.)

Call me a product of "A Charlie Brown Christmas", but I just can't. I need to go and look for That Special Tree. A tree with personality, with attitude, with quirks. Over the years, I've had short squatty trees, tall skinny trees, trees with limbs too limp to hold any ornaments, trees that shoved themselves against the corner to hide a bald spot - one year I even had a tree that leaned out into the living room with a rather menacing glare. We chopped that one up before we put it on the curb.

So this year I braved red blotches and burning eyes for this:

Isn't it lovely? Okay, go ahead, say it: it's crooked. Actually, it's not so much crooked as leaning, but not in a menacing way, just a tired one. The fact that the topmost branch is not quite strong enough to hold up my Las Vegas Star of Bethlehem adds to the askew-ness of the whole visual.

Like the tree topper? I found it at a drugstore, after my previous tree topper up and died. It was a pink, mosque-shaped affair, with a faceless plastic angel leaning out of one of the spun-fiber (perhaps asbestos) windows. An ex-husband pronounced it "hideous beyond all reason" but I loved it.

In addition to my questionable taste in tree toppers, I'm not big on the matchy-matchy ornaments. I prefer the ones that have a history to them. For example, there's this:

It's the first ornament I ever got, and it's the first one I hang on the tree. When I was in kindergarten, a boy's mother sewed it for me. Notice the upside-down "G". It used to bother me, but now I find it endearing.

Like this one:

Made for me by my friend La La. Her name is really Laura, but she used to work at a school for the VERY physically disabled (as in, "So-and-so won't be in today because she died last night"). There was only one student who could speak, and she pronounced her name "La La." It stuck.

Or this one:

My friend's mother hand-painted this for me. She tried to give the angel red hair, like mine, but it ended up pink. Maybe when I go completely gray, I'll try pink.

And then there are family treasures, like this:

This is the stocking we had to hang every year for this guy:

My son's security "blanket" was a Simba he spotted in Mervyn's (now defunct) as a two-year old. He grabbed the package and held onto it through the store.

"Are we buying that?" Dale asked.

I pulled on the package once and was met with 2-year old resistance. "I guess so."

Simba went everywhere and did everything. He survived a few rounds in the washer and dryer after he got wet, dirty, or thrown up on. And every Christmas, Santa had to figure out what to put in a stuffed animal's stocking. Thus, the sweatshirt. Sometimes he got a collar, sometimes a sweater. Santa shopped at Petsmart.

Simba spends his days on top of Marcus' shelves now, seemingly ignored, although when I got him out to take his picture, Marcus said, "Hey - where are you taking him?" I could almost feel a force-field, as if I wouldn't be able to pass beyond the bedroom door with the bedraggled lion.

But I digress. When I think of putting these odd little assortments on a gloriously perfect (if fake) tree, it almost feels like I'm committing a crime. If I go fake, I'd rather go all the way.

My grandmother had one of these. She also had this:

It rotated as it played two or three high, tinny Christmas tunes, changing the color of the tree from green to blue to red to yellow. The colors were nice to watch, but the music gave everyone a nervous twitch after about ten minutes. I certainly could not hang my oddities on the aluminum branches, but it would announce to the world that I am proud to have a fake tree for Christmas. On my own terms, of course.

What about you? No matter what you celebrate at this time of year, are there traditions that you absolutely CANNOT abandon? Please share!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The things I do for Christmas

My family and I did two important things today:

1. We took our annual Christmas picture.

2. We got our (live) Christmas tree.

The tree was pretty inconsequential. The picture - not so much.

In the olden days, we went to a "professional" photographer for the holiday pix. I'm using the quotes because the studio was one of those 1-hour places in the mall that have the appropriate backdrops but don't care if your baby is spitting up formula through the entire 10-minute session.

Then we got smart and started doing our own.

Of course, we had to have the whole family in the pictures, which used to mean the dog and cat. One year, we tried to include Ben, the gecko. Turns out Ben's very small, not very photogenic, and considered to be an appetizer by the dog and cat.

Those pictures were hectic enough, but now that we have two horses, the ante has been raised considerably. We take everyone out to the Silver Rose Ranch in Chino Hills (where the horses are boarded), find a green spot and take as many pictures as possible, in the hopes that one of them will look good enough for a Christmas card.

For the first time anywhere, I am going to show the outtakes of this year's session. This is what we deal with:

In this first shot, notice that Mikey the dog wants to get down because he does not like sitting on the bench's slatted seat (in theory, I agree, it's not comfy).

Katy, the cat, wants off the bench, off the ranch, and back at her nice house. The older she gets, the more she hates this day, and usually coughs up something disgusting on the carpet later, just to punish me.

Frostie is the chestnut horse to the left. At this point, she doesn't want to look at the bench because it wasn't there this morning and if she doesn't look at it, it will go away. Her son, Snoopy, however, wants to eat the bench because he's ADD and wants to put everything in his mouth...

Including our son, Marcus. His shirt and hat were endlessly fascinating, and I spent most of the time pulling his big face away from my teenager's neck. (Hey, I got it - the next book will be about horse vampires!)

Here's a little closeup:

Notice my right hand trying to get his attention while the taut lead rope tries to tug him away. Good sport that he is, Marcus smiles through the whole ordeal, while Katy is still determined not to pose for the papparazzi.

We finally got Snoopy's attention, when...

Frostie sees something in the bushes and gets Dale's attention, which makes Katy think she can make a break for it. At this point, only Snoopy and the dog are camera ready.

Twelve shots later, we finally had a picture no one would cringe at when we sent it out to friends and relatives. Here's the one we picked:

Okay, so Katy's still not smiling, and Frostie's ears aren't pointed forward, but five out of seven of us were facing the camera, so ya gotta take what ya can get.

It was also the millisecond before Snoopy made one final attempt at the teenager.

Now I just have to write the Christmas letter, and decorate the tree, and buy some presents, and...


Friday, December 4, 2009

A small request

"Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people."
- Eleanor Roosevelt.

Now then, can we please stop talking about Tiger Woods?

Tell me about the latest book you read, or movie you saw. What did you like about it? What did you wish was done better?

P.S. If you're in the area, come visit me in Chino this Sunday. I'll be at the Borders Bookstore on Grand, near the 71 freeway, from noon until I sell the last book. I hope they have a cot in the back...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How I named my blog

When I first began blogging, I floundered around a bit, in Wordpress and on MySpace and finally lit on Blogger, partly because it had that "Insert Tab A into Slot B" way of developing a page, and partly because I can have quite a few different blogs on different subjects. This was important because in addition to this blog, I have the ongoing saga of my horse, Snoopy, and his broken leg. (Go here to read about his journey back to health.)

One of the fun parts of Blogger is their "Blogs of Note", where the Blogger team of experts trolls around the pool and finds interesting blogs to recommend. I'd love to be a Blog of Note someday, but they're pretty random and I may have a better chance winning an Oscar.

As a matter of fact, this post seems random, but I'm explaining all this to tell you how I stumbled upon a blog called "synch-ro-ni-zing". It's written by a lady named Ruth, and the pictures are beautiful, as well as the words. She seems to live in a rural kind of place that sounds peaceful and lovely, and I'd probably like to live there, too, as long as I wasn't too far away from civilization.

I'm telling you all this because Ruth has asked for blog writers to tell her how we named our blogs - in a post. She is providing a link for her readers to peruse our offerings and satisfy everyone's curiosity. So here's how I named this "On the edge of the chair of literature."

I am a writer, and this blog began as a way for me to talk about the writing process. In some ways, I'd like to have a defined writing platform, as in "a romance author," or "a women's lit writer," but I don't. I write a humor column in my very local newspaper, the Placentia News-Times. I've been known to write articles in California Riding Magazine about horse shows. And, of course, I've written a mystery, Freezer Burn, which was published in August.

As a reader, I'm equally eclectic. In my misspent youth, I read anything that strung letters together to make words I could understand. Now that I'm older and realize I can't read everything, I tried to read things that are well written, no matter what genre. This explains why I haven't read any of the Twilight series. And no, I'm not seeing the movies.

But of all the genres, the humor essay remains my favorite thing to read, and James Thurber remains my all-time favorite essayist. He had a brilliant way of taking a mundane family interaction and lifting it to absurdity. In his essays, he had an Everyman kind of role, to try to live a quiet and orderly life, which was constantly tossed aside by the chaos of society.

When I visited his house and museum in Columbus, Ohio, I was as impressed by the man as I was by his writings. He was legally blind in his later years, so much so that he wore what amounted to binoculars for glasses - a large, black contraption that was strapped to his head. He used enormous canvases to draw his cartoons, and would sit very close to the work as he inked these impossibly big characters.

How many of us would keep going like this? He could have, at any time, said, "Enough. I'm blind, for Pete's sake. I'm going to spend my days sitting in my yard and listening to the birds singing." But he was driven to create, no matter what.

When I needed a name for my blog, I had to involve my idol. I re-read My Life and Hard Times and found what I was looking for in the very first entry, "Preface to a Life." In it, Thurber is bemoaning the aging process. (That he is approaching his forties in the piece is part of the humor, although I suspect it was not meant to be; these days, we are less apt to think of forty as old.) He worries that he is getting older, and is living with a daily dread of losing his way in this world.

According to Thurber, the aging humorist writes from fear rather than joy. "The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats. Afraid of losing themselves in the larger flight of the two-volume novel, or even the one-volume novel, they stick to short accounts of their misadventures because they never get so deep into them but that they feel they can get out. This type of writing is not a joyous form of self-expression but the manifestation of a twitchiness at once cosmic and mundane."

It's a funny piece, but in a melancholy way, and I think there is a certain truth to the "twitchy" factor. If you are a writer, you write because you can't NOT write. Although I did eventually make the move to the full-length (more or less) novel, I see Thurber's point about it all.

Words burn in my head, until I must sit down and release them through my fingertips. I do worry about getting so deeply into writing a scene that I cannot write my way out of it. And I would love to write Great Literature and sit with my back in its chair, but instead, I sit on the edge and write my light and lively tales.

There now, does that make any sense?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The countdown begins

I told you I'd remind you...

This Thursday, I'll be at the Buena Park Public Library, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. along with two other authors Teresa Burrell and Jeff Sherratt, talking about mysteries. Actually, Teresa set up the event, so the whole evening's a mystery to me.

But I'd like to see lots of faces in the audience. Not for myself - I'm the same goofball with one person that I am with a room full. I just want libraries to start getting the interest they deserve. After all, it's free entertainment.

Free. Entertainment. Did you get that? Go to a library, spend an evening with some fun people, maybe even check out a book or a movie. FOR FREE.

Come out to Buena Park and see me, Tee, and Jeff. We're fun, I promise. Okay, Jeff talks a lot, but he's interesting, and I'm bringing duct tape. (Just joking, Jeff! Ha ha.)

I'll make this as easy as possible:
1. Here's where to find Buena Park. It's in California, in case you don't recognize the shape.
2. The Public Library is at 7150 La Palma Avenue. In Buena Park. Here's what it looks like:

Okay, it's a little fuzzy, but it's the best I could do with the resources I've got.

3. If you get lost, their phone number is 714-826-4100.

4. When you get there, we will be in the 2nd Floor Boardroom, at 6:00 p.m.

After the talk, we will all have books for sale. But you don't have to buy any. You can just enjoy the pleasure of our company. The only way I can make this easier is if I came to your house, helped you out of your jammies and into that nice velour track suit, and drove you to the library.
Let me know if you need a ride.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks for a million little things

Thanksgiving is here (for us Americans) and a lot of people are writing up lists of what they're thankful for. I don't blame them - it's appropriate. As I am the kind of person who is equal parts irreverent and schmaltzy, I could come up with a list. I could make a video, where I tell everyone how grateful I am for my family and friends and life. I can even deliver it in an Over-the-Top, Mop-Me-Off-the-Floor, Halle-Berry-Oscar-Moment weeping extravaganza.

But I'm not gonna. The schmaltzy moment came and went about 7:15 this morning, while I was writing an article about when my son was a baby.

So here's my irreverent, completely non-schmaltzy, random list of what I'm thankful for this year.

1. I'm thankful that I'm no longer doing this:

Yes, that's right - I was a flying angel in the Crystal Cathedral's Glory of Christmas (and the Glory of Easter). For ten years, I was hung by wires twice nightly and three times on the weekends, flown 60-80 feet in the air above the pews in the sanctuary. I knew all the cues by heart; I used to take my sweats off and put my costume on at the start of O Little Town of Bethlehem. The day I started undressing in the middle of Macy's when they started playing that song was the day I knew I should turn in my wings.

2. Speaking of shows, I'm thankful I met this guy:

I've now seen Penn & Teller's Las Vegas show three times. Love 'em!

3. Speaking of Vegas, I'm also thankful for this guy:

Without Dino, we wouldn't have cool. Who would Benny Needles emulate?

4. Still speaking of Vegas, I'm thankful for my friend Robin:

Robin is my wild-haired friend (and extraordinary artist), who talks me into spur of the moment escapades, like this one. We spent two days going to shows (like Spamalot and yes, Penn & Teller), getting massages at the spa and napping. Pure decadence!

5. Speaking of decadent, I'm thankful for Starbucks eggnog lattes.

6. I'm thankful I'm not Sarah Palin. (I could post a picture here, but I just don't feel like it, 'kay?) Sure, she got a $6 million advance for her "book", and rumor has it she's sold 700,000 copies BUT:

** Everyone's selling the $28.99 hardcover at GREATLY reduced prices. Amazon has it listed at $14.50. That's 50% off. By contrast, Freezer Burn is only reduced 15%. Clearly, Amazon thinks more highly of my little mystery, right?

** Even if you estimate Palin's royalties at 15%, she's only earned about $1.5 million of her advance. It may be a long time before she starts getting royalty checks. If sales don't improve, Harper Collins may not offer her a second book deal.

7. I'm thankful I'm not the President. Not just the current one, but any President of the U.S. It's a thankless job. You can't open your mouth without having a microphone shoved in your face. If you dress up, you're wasting the taxpayer's money on clothes. If you dress down, you're presenting a shabby front to the rest of the world. There's no way to be a great President until you've been out of office about 20 years - or you're dead. No thanks.

8. I'm thankful I have a goofball for a son:

I'd love him anyway, but that he shares my sense of humor is like icing on life's cake.

9. I'm thankful for precut bags of broccoli, carrots, and green beans in the produce aisle. I'd never eat my veggies if part of the work wasn't done for me.

10. I'm thankful that I have room in my heart for schmaltz. You can't be a smartass 24/7.

Happy Thanksgiving, all you Yanks!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Three little words

I've got three words for you today, plus a bunch of back-up words to explain. Ready?

Visit the library.

I know, most of the people who read this blog LOVE to read BOOKS, and they OF COURSE know that libraries contain BOOKS. Therefore, by following the "if A=B and B=C, then A=C" theorem, it should be obvious - if readers love books and books are in libraries, then readers should love libraries.

So why are there so few people at library events?

I thought about my own inability to get to them, and decided it's just plain laziness. I look at the library calendar and think something looks interesting - then either I forget about it, or the day comes and I'm too "busy" fixing dinner or grocery shopping or doing some other thing I could have juggled in order to go to the library and hear a good story. I suspect I'm not the only one who does this.

The first library event I attended was at the Placentia Public Library (my hometown, go-to library), where I listened to Gary Phillips and Denise Hamilton speak on their book of anthologies, Los Angeles Noir. As any good talk, it veered from the book to the writing process to the art of the mystery. I remember being impressed with their graciousness and enthusiasm - qualities that some people might not have with an audience of ten. And two of them were volunteers working the event.

My own experience at two libraries - Mt. Zion and Decatur, in Illinois, were much the same. I had 8-10 people at each evening, and several of those were family members. But Gary and Denise taught me well. I was as engaging and enthusiastic and approachable as I could be. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and I did sell a few books, so the evenings turned out well. Between you and me, I enjoyed the Mt. Zion Library the most, only because 1) the library director stayed for the event and 2) there were two reporters for two different newspapers, who asked a lot of fun questions.

I have two library events coming up in Orange County next month. On December 3rd, I'll be at the Buena Park Public Library, on a panel of writers (Teresa Burrell, Jeff Sherratt, and myself) to talk about mysteries. The event starts at 6:00 p.m. and if you want more information, the library has a nice blog about it.

On December 30th, I'll be at the La Habra Public Library, starting at 2:30 p.m. and talking about "Write What You Know, then Change It." I'm really excited about La Habra, because they called me. (I know, it's crazy!)

Both of these libraries are doing as much as they can to advertise to everyone in the community. I'm sure they'd love to have to bring chairs into the room to seat the overflow. Trust me, I'll be as happy seeing one person as fifty, but I'd like to see the events get good attendance, just for the libraries' sakes.

But of course it's hard for me to berate you for not attending, if I also flake out on library programs.

Here's my new plan: the next time my library offers an interesting program, I will mark it on my calendar. And then I will plan to attend, from shopping early to fixing dinner in the crockpot that morning.

I may even branch out and visit neighboring libraries - which is one of the reasons for this blog. Even if you're not a resident of Buena Park, or La Habra, if you're in the vicinity, please stop by for a visit to our author events. I'd love to see you, and the libraries could use the attendance. Do they make money at these events? No, but they make friends. Doesn't a trip to the library make you wonder why you aren't there more often?

So mark your calendars for December 3rd, and December 30th. Don't worry - I'll remind you again as the dates get closer.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Truth in shopping

The holidays are upon us. How do I know?

Because I saw this in Albertson's Supermarket tonight:

"Screw the diet. Mama wants chocolate."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

And now, a word from our sponsor

I need to tell you all what a wonderful time I had last weekend, but I fear I must proselytize first. But don't be afraid - it has a little something to do with books, in a roundabout way.

This past Friday night, my son's choir sang the National Anthem at the L.A. Galaxy's soccer game. It was a very important game; as the Major Soccer League Western Conference Finals, it would be televised on ESPN2.

My son is actually in three choirs at school - this is the VHS Vocal Jazz choir, an audition only group. He auditioned for them as a freshman and didn't get in, then worked his butt off to get in as a sophomore, and has been a part of the group ever since. Here's a video of last year's crew (Sonny Boy is the 2nd soloist):

Many of the kids graduated, so this year is populated by new recruits, all strong singers, and all inexperienced at performing in front of 25,000 people, PLUS knowing it will be televised to who-knows-how-many soccer fans (not to mention friends and family across the country).

As the choir booster club president, I helped with tickets, chauffeured the kids to the game, and helped out where the choir director needed me. As a repayment, I got to go down on the soccer field and watch the sound check. (Side note: That field is ENORMOUS.)

I told kids not to expect too much from the televised aspect of their performance. Having watched plenty of sports events with my hubby, I know the cameras do not caress the singer's face for the whole song. They pan the crowd, the players, and sometimes even the flag.

I also know how distressing a TV appearance can be. When I was a flying angel at the Crystal Cathedral's Glory of Christmas, the local news interviewed me. I raced home to see my snippet and was appalled. I realize I have fairly large teeth, but they seemed to leap out of my mouth at the camera with every word I spoke. Actually, it reminded me of someone...

But I digress.

Back at the soccer field, the kids were excited. They were nervous. When it came time to sing, they were magnificent. Their voices rose, strong and reverent, as fireworks went off behind them. It was a great moment.

It also wasn't televised. ESPN2 decided to cut to commercial, rather than show the singing of the National Anthem.

I wasn't disappointed, except to feel badly for the kids who had told Grandma to tune in at 8:00 p.m. But it nagged at me, for another reason.

This game was on November 13th, two days after Veteran's Day. Two days after we've trotted out our Sunday finest to honor the men and women who fought for their country and lived to tell the tale. Two days after our neighborhoods hoisted their flags and held ceremonies.

Two days later and a national TV channel (owned by Disney, I believe) cannot be bothered to display a couple of minutes of patriotism if it means one less commercial spot. For all their millions, they'd still rather have the money.

No, I'm not surprised, but color me disgusted.

What does this have to do with books? It has a lot to do with the marketing, I think. If I were in the MLS public relations department, I'd be demanding that the National Anthem be televised at any MLS broadcast. Why?

Because soccer is not perceived as an American sport. It's regional, at best, for kids. We live in California, so my son played it, from the time he was six until this year. By contrast, it wasn't really an offering for my brother's kids in Illinois - they were more about baseball and basketball. If the Major Soccer League wants to increase its visibility, its attendance at games, its viewers on TV, and ultimately its revenues, it needs to hook into the American consciousness.

One way I'd think they could do this is to market soccer as an American sport. The subliminal message of hearing the National Anthem prior to a soccer game is just one way to start turning the public's mind around, as in, "Hey, Martha, guess what? Americans play soccer!"

Oh, and maybe stop hiring these guys. They may be good, but the country will rally behind home-grown talent before they warm up to the European blood.

So the good thing about Friday night was, I began to think about marketing on more levels. I use the internet, both in direct selling and social networking. At bookstores and festivals, etc, I can hand sell books fairly easily. But what am I missing? What little piece of my novel could be used to sell books? What can I use to reach a more global market?

What about you? If you're an author, what are you using to market your books? If you're a reader, what kind of marketing makes you go out and buy? Even better, what kind of campaign makes you run away?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Down thru the chimney with good Saint...

Okay, I don't know if he's a saint or not, but Nick Valentino is on a whirlwind tour this month to promote his novel, Thomas Riley. Before I met Nick, I had never heard of Steampunk, and now... well, I've heard of it. Seriously, it sounds like a wonderful new genre that I've barely scratched the surface learning and I'd love to jump into all the layers.

Here today, Nick is going to give you all a hint of what Steampunk is all about, along with some of his observations about what it's like to be a published writer in the 21st Century:

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Extra Twenty Miles

The bane of every writer is the idea that they have to promote their own book. At writer’s conferences, when promoting your work is brought up a huge collective groan rumbles through the audience. We all want to just write… right?

Being a writer without a huge Little Brown contract leaves all of us in the dilemma of promoting your own work. So there’s, book signings, conferences, travel, bank accounts, shipping, print ads, online ads, out of the box promotion, air fare, wardrobe, taxis, banners, flyers, photo shoots, social networking, maintaining a blog (or three), postcards, book marks, stickers, buttons, packing materials, blog touring, contacting bookstores, expense breakdowns, planning meetings, Paypal, pre-orders, posters, websites, con registrations, hotel reservations, contests, wholesale orders, returned books, book reviews and sending review copies… Had enough? That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

Here I am in the middle of my thirty day blog tour, day seventeen to be exact, and I can tell you this. I’m pretty darned overwhelmed. Keep in mind I like doing a lot of this stuff, so life could be worse. I could be digging ditches in the rain somewhere right? I enjoy making things happen and actually seeing a tangible product when you’re done with each little goal. The problem lies in the fact that there is often simply too much to handle. I have friends and family helping and it’s still not enough.

I promise, I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to say that writing is never just writing. In order to get noticed amongst the other hundred thousand books that were released this year, you the author have to go the extra twenty miles. Nope, one mile isn’t close to enough.

When I was finished writing my Steampunk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk) novel, Thomas Riley, the work had really just begun. I had all of these grand plans for promoting the book, and I’m making those happen now, but it’s so easy to get caught up in one aspect of promotion. For instance, I’ve been breaking my days up into individual goals. Friday I created new “@sirthomasriley.com” emails. I contacted about ten cons around the country and I lined up promotional models to appear at the cons. Monday I created a definitive list with prices and priorities of cons. Tuesday I made a back log of expenses and finalized my company bank account for book sales. It’s hardly the stereotype of a writer, right?

Obviously the most important part of being an author is the writing, but I have to say that your chances of really spreading the word about your book are pretty slim unless you make promoting said book a way of life. I’m like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde… No more like Professor Nerdy and Mr. Hollywood PR Guy.

From all this hard work, comes my obsession, my passion and my first novel, Thomas Riley. I only gave you a Wiki website with the explaining what Steampunk is, but think of it this way: Chill 1 part Jules Verne, mix with two parts Indiana Jones, add a mixer of H.G. Wells and for flavor twist in a little Frankenstein.

Thomas Riley Blurb:

For more than twenty years West Canvia and Lemuria have been at war. From the safety of his laboratory, weapons designer Thomas Riley has cleverly and proudly empowered the West Canvian forces. But when a risky alchemy experiment goes horribly wrong, Thomas and his wily assistant Cynthia Bassett are thrust onto the front lines of battle and forced into shaky alliances with murderous sky pirates in a deadly race to kidnap the only man who can undo the damage: the mad genius behind Lemuria's cunning armaments.

Find out more at:

You can purchase signed copies at:


* * * * * * * * * * *
Thanks, Nick!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hooked on Classics worked for me

Although I'm not officially enrolled in NaNoWriMo, I'm trying to keep a schedule this month and write at least 1,000 words a day. I think the contest's goal is 2,000 words a day, but I need to keep a goal I think I can honestly reach. I'm 10,000 words into the second book in my Peri Minneopa series, and I've been having some personal motivation problems. If I have 40,000 words by the end of the month, I could call it progress.

That being said, something's burning holes in the creative landscape of my brain, so I'm going to have to stop writing that scene where Skip is interviewing a possible suspect while Peri lays in the bushes of the Alta Vista Country Club, having been knocked out by a blow from a golf club, and then…

Anyway, I've been thinking about literary fiction in general, and the classics in particular. Until I married Dale, I had been hooked on classics. If it wasn't at least 50 years old, I didn't want to read it. My book shelves are filled with Dickens, Nabokov, Steinbeck, Cather. Oh, sure, I indulged in pulp fiction, but it had to be from a time gone by - Edgar Rice Burroughs, Zane Grey, Raymond Chandler. Dale got me into reading Dean Koontz, but that's another post.

Now this is coming back to bite me, as I race through all the mystery writers I missed, because if one more person says, "Oh, you've got to come, So-and-So will be there with a new book," and I have to resort to Google to find out how famous So-and-So is, I'm going to hit myself in the head with a rock.

But I still love the old stuff, and I especially love the resurgence of the oldies by way of the macabre twists. I bought Pride and Prejudice and Zombies just to read for Halloween. If I like it, I may have to read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

As a writer, I want to get into the act. So, ladies and gentlemen, for your enjoyment, may I present:

Of Mice and Menopause
by Gayle Carline

"Where we goin', Georgia?"

The sweaty woman jerked down the hem of her sticky blouse and scowled at Lennie. "So you forgot that awready, did you? I gotta tell you again, do I? Jesus Christ, you're a crazy bastard!"

"I forgot," Lennie said softly. "I tried not to forget. Honest I did, Georgia."

"OK - OK. I'll tell ya again. I ain't got nothing to do. Might jus' as well spen' all my time tellin' you things and then you forget 'em, and I tell you again."

"Tried and tried," said Lennie. "but it didn't do no good. I remember about the rabbits, Georgia."

"To hell with the rabbits. That's all you ever can remember is them rabbits." And then Georgia took out her gun and shot Lennie, because he should've known better than to annoy her in the middle of a hot flash.

The End.

Author's postscript: This is in no way an endorsement of violence just because you're uncomfortable, nor is it an indictment of women over a certain age who are apt to find themselves a little cranky over the fact that someone has set their internal organs on fire. It's just fiction, people.

Okay, now I can get back to work.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The view from the Border(s)

Borders Books in Brea - I've hit the big time!

I had my first FREEZER BURN signing at a Big Box o' Books yesterday. It was an interesting experience, although, I've noticed lately that I don't ever have boring experiences. But I digress…

It may be my first large-scale signing, but I think I learned a few things, things I'd like to pass on to others.

1. You Will Never Be Prepared Enough, and It Will Not Always Be Your Fault.

Even though I gave the staff promotional material, and even though I stopped by the store twice to verify that everything was ready, when I got there on Sunday, it was almost all for naught. The good news is, they had 20 copies of my book. The bad news is, I had met with two different floor managers, neither of which was on duty that day. They had relayed the information to this manager (a darling young man named Spenser) that I would be there someday at sometime.

"We have your stuff," he explained. "But nobody told me you'd be here today."

He set up a table and brought out books and was ever so charming about whether I needed anything else, and a little apologetic that he didn't have a clue where my promo material might be. Fortunately, I had a copy of the flyer in my car and he provided an easel for it.

Lesson: Bring EVERYTHING.

2. Location Is Important.

They set the table up in the middle of the store, behind the 50% Off racks. This made it difficult to greet customers. If I stood by the table, people took alternate paths to avoid me. As a matter of fact, they maneuvered quicker than a tight end running for the touchdown. If anyone was brave enough to walk toward me, they didn't seem to "connect" me with my books on the table - my books with my flyer with my picture on it.

When I sat down, I got better results. People were curious about me, sitting at a table in the middle of the bookstore, and I was able to engage them in conversation.

In hindsight, I should have asked Spenser if we could move my table up to the front door. I didn't because I didn't want to seem like a diva.

Lesson: Sometimes it's okay to be the diva.

3. People Buy Books in Inverse Proportion to How Much They Talk.

Several people came up and asked me about my book, talked to me at length about books in general, the writing process, and even my days as a software engineer. None of these people bought my book. Not only that, but I knew they weren't going to buy it. It's just one of those things, like a sixth sense. The Salesgirl in me wanted to (gently) shuffle them off. The Curious Person in me wanted to hear their stories. The Soft Heart in me didn't want them to feel discarded. By a vote of two-to-one, the Salesgirl lost.

Lesson: Tell the Salesgirl to shut up and listen.

4. Life is Sometimes a Pleasant Surprise.

Of the two floor managers I spoke to, one of them was very friendly, always laughing and easy to talk to. The other manager was, well, not. She had a reserved nature, very cautious, and always a serious expression on her face. Some might call it dour. When it was nearly closing time and I had sold 16 of my 20 books, I asked the clerk what else they needed me to do and he called up the manager who had just come on duty.

The dour one.

I held my breath, anxious that she'd tell me they were shipping the last four copies back to Ingram's tomorrow. She came over to the table and said, "Wow, you sold quite a bit."

"Well, all but these four," I replied. "So… what will happen to these?"

"We'll keep them on the shelves for at least a couple of weeks. If they don't sell, we'll send them back." She picked up the books. "You did really well, though. Some authors don't sell any."

I couldn't believe it. "How is that possible?"

"If they're not very personable and don't talk to people, they don't sell, even if they're fairly well known. But you did great."

And then… she smiled. She even laughed a little as she thanked me. We're buds now.

Lesson: Do your job, be pleasant, and you never know what rewards you may reap.

This Friday, I'm at Barnes & Noble in Fullerton. Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 31, 2009


This is just a brief post in honor of Halloween, to ask:

Who's your scariest monster?

Are you old school, and find this guy gives you the willies?

Or maybe you need someone a little more hardcore…

This guy seems to garner his share of scares (there's even a phobia named after him, I think).

As for myself, I'm not normally frightened by the monsters themselves, when they're not in context, as in, ripping an innocent victim's heart out and feeding it to the other innocent soon-to-be-victim. So many of our movie monsters have been parodied, to the point where, even if I was frightened, now I see the absurd humor. ("Freddy, seriously, ever think of plastic surgery for all that acne scarring?")

However, I was in Mo's Music in Fullerton this Thursday, where my son takes guitar lessons. Mo's loves to decorate for all the holidays. They had witches and ghosts and spooky stuff, but this made me run screaming:

That's right. It's Pumpkin-Head Matron. You see, a long time ago, there was a soccer mom who bought some miniature candy bars to give out for Halloween. Every time a group of trick-or-treaters came to the door, she'd give a few pieces of chocolate away, then she'd have one for herself. Or two. As the evening progressed, she doled out ONE bar to EACH child, then had three or four to herself.

The next morning, when she woke from her sugar-induced coma, she stumbled to the mirror and discovered - TA DA TAAAAAA -

She'd lost her waist and grown a pumpkin head!!!

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A brief pause in my whirlwind

I've been on-the-go, as they say, a lot recently. So much so that I emailed my schedule to my hubby, just in case I forgot to tell him anything. In the past two weeks, I've been to Bouchercon, two library events, a book club, have I told you about the Placentia Heritage Festival? Stories to tell, my friends, stories to tell.

And then Soupy Sales died.

There are probably TONS of people who don't have a clue who Soupy Sales was, but he was as much a part of my childhood as Captain Kangaroo. Yeah, I know - you haven't heard of him, either.

The Soupy Sales Show was a little like Pee Wee's Playhouse, without the creepy factor. There was a lot of comic banter with his two "dogs", White Fang and Black Tooth, which were just enormous paws that would wave out from the camera while they "talked." Their words were just the same kind of "whaa" syllables, like saying the word rat but replacing the r with a wh-sound. White Fang had a gruff voice and Black Tooth had a mewling voice.

Then there were the two puppets at the window, Pookie the Lion and Hippy the Hippopotamus. I don't think either of them spoke, but Pookie would lip-sync Frank Sinatra singing "Young At Heart" which always used to crack me up.

Somewhere in the episode, Soupy would get a pie in the face, and he was fond of dancing and leaping. It's possible he was a little hyperactive. I'm glad they didn't try to treat it.

But what I remember the most vividly is the door. At some point there would be a knock at the door and Soupy would answer. Sometimes it was a famous person. Sometimes they'd show some clip from an old movie, like cowboys galloping and shooting toward the camera or an elephant stampede from a Tarzan movie. Once the crew played a trick on Soupy and had a naked lady, out of scene, greet him at the door.

When I wrote Freezer Burn, I put the Soupy Sales door idea into practice a few times. I had my major scenes planned, but there were some supporting scenes that I let myself wander around in. One of the setups I used was in Peri's office; there would be a knock at the door. Who would it be?

I was thinking of Soupy's show when I wrote these. I'd get a brief flash of a ridiculous jungle scene in my head, laugh, then start writing, which might have accounted for this exerpt:

The printer had just completed its job when the door opened and a tall, muscular man entered. His suit looked expensive, but he did not. Acne scars defined his shiny face, his small dark eyes were shadowed by thick, tangled brows. If baboons wore Armani, this is what they'd look like.

"You the private dick?"

"Private investigator," she told him. "How may I help you?"

He stood close to her desk, leaning slightly forward, his feet apart, and hands clasped together in front. "I represent a client who is interested in the Forever Roses ring. My client would like to be sure the ring goes to the rightful owner."

I can honestly say, I don't think I would have taken this approach to my book if I hadn't watched that goofy man open his door every week - and yes, sometimes he got a pie in the face.

Thank you, Soupy. I'll miss you.

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